[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 150 (Tuesday, August 5, 2014)]
[Pages 45452-45456]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-18450]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R6-R-2014-N092; FXRS12610600000-145-FF06R06000]

National Bison Range Complex, Moiese, MT; Environmental 
Assessment for the Proposed Annual Funding Agreement With the 
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce 
that our draft environmental assessment (EA) for the proposed Annual 
Funding Agreement (AFA) with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai 
Tribes (CSKT) is available. The proposed AFA would allow CSKT to 
design, manage, and implement the biology, visitor services, fire, and 
maintenance program on the National Bison Range Complex. This draft EA 
describes and analyzes four alternatives, including the draft AFA and 
the No Action alternative.

DATES: To ensure consideration, we must receive your written comments 
on the draft EA by September 4, 2014. Submit comments by one of the 
methods under ADDRESSES.

ADDRESSES: Send your comments or requests for more information by one 
of the following methods.
    Email: bisonrange@fws.gov. Include ``NBR AFA'' in the subject line.
    U.S. Mail: Laura King, Planning Division, National Bison Range 
Complex, 58355 Bison Range Road, Moiese, MT 59824.
    Document Request: A copy of the EA may be obtained by writing to 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Refuge Planning, 134 Union 
Boulevard, Suite 300, Lakewood, CO 80228; or by download from http://fws.gov/bisonrange.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura King, by phone at 406-644-2211, 
ext. 210, or by email at laura_king@fws.gov; or Toni Griffin, by phone 
at 303-236-4378, or by email at toni_griffin@fws.gov.



    The National Bison Range Complex (refuge complex) is managed by the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the National Wildlife Refuge 
System (Refuge System). The refuge complex is located in Flathead, 
Lake, and Sanders

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Counties in northwestern Montana, with the refuge headquarters in 
Moiese, Montana. The refuge complex consists of the following units of 
the Refuge System: The National Bison Range, Pablo National Wildlife 
Refuge (Pablo Refuge), Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge (Ninepipe 
Refuge), Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, and the Northwest Montana 
Wetland Management District (WMD). The units included in the proposed 
AFA are the National Bison Range, the Ninepipe and Pablo Refuges, and 
nine waterfowl production areas in the Lake County portion of the WMD. 
All of these units are in Lake and Sanders Counties, and within the 
boundaries of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' (CSKT's) 
Flathead Indian Reservation.
    The National Bison Range was established in 1908, to conserve the 
herd of bison presented by the American Bison Society. It also has a 
purpose as a refuge and breeding ground for birds. In addition, Pablo 
and Ninepipe Refuges were established as refuge and breeding areas for 
native birds. The United States owns all the lands within the refuge 
complex except for Ninepipe and Pablo Refuges, which are on tribal 
trust lands owned by CSKT. In 1948, the Service acquired a refuge 
easement from CSKT for the right to manage these lands and waters as 
part of the Refuge System. Including the nine waterfowl production 
areas in the WMD, the area being considered under the proposed action 
encompasses 26,604 acres made up of a variety of wildlife habitats from 
wetlands, lakes, and streams, to intermountain bunchgrass prairies 
interspersed with forested lands. The refuge complex supports a variety 
of wildlife species, including the plains bison, bighorn sheep, black 
bears, and migratory Federal trust species, including grassland birds 
and shorebirds that are becoming imperiled as habitats decline across 
their ranges. Over 205 species of birds use these lands for breeding, 
migration, and nesting.
    The beauty of the Mission Valley and the refuge complex brings over 
200,000 annual visitors from all over the world to view and photograph 
wildlife. Visitors come to explore the visitor center, drive the 19-
mile-long Red Sleep Auto Tour Route, fish and hunt, and participate in 
refuge complex education and interpretation programs.
    The CSKT is a Federally-recognized Indian Tribe represented by its 
Tribal Council, participating in the Tribal Self-Governance Program 
established by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) under the 
Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, 25 U.S.C. 450-
450n, as amended by section 204 of the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 
1994, codified at 25 U.S.C. 458aa-458hh. The CSKT is comprised of the 
Bitterroot Salish, the Pend d'Oreille, and the Kootenai Tribes, whose 
home is the 1.3-million-acre Flathead Indian Reservation in 
northwestern Montana. The Tribal Self-Governance Act gives qualifying 
tribes the authority to request and enter into negotiations for AFAs 
with non-BIA Department of the Interior agencies, authorizing the tribe 
to conduct programs, services, functions, or activities that have a 
special geographical, historical, or cultural significance to the 
tribe. We have the authority to decline a proposal made by any tribe, 
and we may not transfer any positions or duties that are considered 
inherently Federal.


    In November 2011, CSKT requested negotiations for a third AFA with 
the Service that would allow them to manage and implement the biology, 
fire, maintenance, and visitor services programs on the National Bison 
Range Complex. Negotiations for a draft AFA were concluded in March 
2012. In May 2012, the Service initiated an EA process to evaluate the 
environmental consequences of this draft AFA. The public was notified 
about the EA process through statewide media outlets and the refuge 
complex Web site. As part of this public scoping process, the public 
reviewed the draft AFA and provided comments. We prepared this EA to 
document our analysis of alternatives. Implementation of any of the 
alternatives would involve changes to the staff and administration of 
the National Bison Range Complex, so we developed a range of 
alternatives, with different levels of program management by the CSKT 
and various staff configurations. In this EA, we describe in detail the 
following alternatives and their expected consequences:

 Alternative A--No Action
 Alternative B--Draft AFA (Proposed Action)
 Alternative C--AFA for Fire and Visitor Programs
 Alternative D--AFA same as Alternative C, plus Addition of 
More CSKT Staff in All Programs
 Alternative E--AFA same as Alternative D, plus District 
Programs With Combined Service and CSKT Staff in All Programs

AFA Alternatives We Are Considering

Alternative A--Current Management (No Action)

    In accordance with approved Service plans and policies and under 
the supervision and leadership of the refuge manager, our employees 
would plan, design, and conduct all work on the refuge complex, 
augmented as needed by contractors, volunteers, and cooperators such as 
universities and researchers. We would keep the nine current permanent 
positions and convert the two term positions (fish and wildlife 
biologist and maintenance worker) back to permanent status. Our program 
leaders in the biology, visitor services, and maintenance programs 
would continue to recruit and supervise or lead the respective staff in 
their programs. A GS-9 outdoor recreation planner may be utilized to 
help develop programs and projects and to manage the visitor center for 
the 200,000 visitors that come to the refuge complex each year, 
bringing the staff to 12 permanent employees. We would continue 
targeted recruiting of CSKT members and descendants for seasonal 
positions, vacated permanent positions, and the Federal Pathways 
Programs for students, which would give individuals the experience and 
opportunity to qualify for careers with us or other agencies.
    We would continue to coordinate with CSKT as the entity responsible 
for wildlife management throughout the surrounding Flathead Indian 
Reservation and as the owner of the lands on which the Ninepipe and 
Pablo Refuges are situated and other adjoining tribal lands. Our 
informal and formal cooperation with CSKT would continue on issues such 
as invasive plant species control, fire management, trumpeter swan 
restoration, habitat management and native plant restoration, and 
grizzly bear and gray wolf management on the reservation.
    Under the leadership of our supervisory wildlife biologist, we 
would continue to plan, design, and manage all biological programs to 
support and accomplish the purposes for which each unit of the refuge 
complex was established. We would continue to set annual priorities, 
designing and monitoring short- and long-term projects to better 
understand the resources of the refuge complex and address management 
concerns. Inventory and monitoring programs would continue to focus on 
Federal trust species and the biological resources that support those 
species. The biological staff would develop or update our long-range 
management plans such as the 15-year Comprehensive Conservation Plan 

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the habitat management plan. We would develop these documents with the 
full involvement of various partners CSKT and the State of Montana.
    The quality of the forage, including the spread of invasive plant 
species and the effects of other grazing animals and insects, would 
continue to be monitored and managed on the Bison Range to improve 
range health for bison forage while providing a diversity of habitats 
for other native wildlife. We would continue to inventory and monitor 
infestations of invasive plant species and develop and apply treatment 
strategies, using an integrated approach of chemical, biological, 
cultural, and mechanical methods. We would continue to coordinate with 
CSKT and other partners in Lake and Sanders Counties, to develop a 
treatment strategy that identifies priorities, new invaders, and 
treatment areas that would have a greater effect on a larger landscape.
    We would coordinate water level management on the Ninepipe and 
Pablo Refuges and waterfowl production areas with CSKT and the Flathead 
Irrigation District. We would use water level management structures to 
optimize nesting, feeding, and brood-rearing habitat for waterfowl and 
other waterbirds.
    Bird surveys, including surveys of waterfowl, neotropical migrants, 
and resident birds, would continue to be designed and carried out by 
our staff or coordinated with other agencies such as the CSKT Division 
of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation, and Conservation (FWRC). We would 
conduct annual big game counts, per recommendations in the Bison 
Range's Fenced Animal Management Plan.
    We would continue to monitor bison health and genetic integrity in 
coordination with the Service's Wildlife Health Office (WHO). We would 
monitor the health of our bison herd, including conducting necropsies 
to prevent the spread of disease. Our maintenance and biological staff 
would plan and conduct the annual bison roundup to collect genetic 
information and monitor herd health.
    Under the leadership of our supervisory outdoor recreation planner, 
we would continue to plan and execute all visitor services programs, 
which would focus on the mission of the Service, refuge management 
programs, cultural importance of the refuge complex, and our Federal 
trust species such as bison and migratory birds, other resident 
wildlife, and their native habitat needs. We would continue to provide 
hunting and fishing opportunities on specific units within the refuge 
complex, following Federal, State, and reservation laws. We would 
continue to develop and provide environmental education and 
interpretive programs to local schools and conduct outreach through 
local media and online resources to educate the public about the refuge 
complex, the Service, and the Refuge System. Our supervisory outdoor 
recreation planner would be responsible for developing long-range 
management plans, including the 15-year Comprehensive Conservation Plan 
and the Visitor Services Plan for the refuge complex.
    Under the direction of our lead maintenance employee, we would 
continue to be responsible for all projects and programs associated 
with the maintenance program, including the maintenance and repair of 
all facilities, roads, equipment, and vehicles, to provide dependable, 
safe, and secure operating conditions for all programs. Our maintenance 
staff would continue to assist with habitat management projects, such 
as invasive species control, haying and grazing programs, habitat 
restoration, and water level management. Our maintenance staff would 
also continue to be responsible for the movement of bison for grazing 
management and the annual roundup activities necessary for monitoring 
herd health and excessing animals. Using horses, our maintenance staff 
would relocate bison every 2 to 3 weeks (April through September) to 
manage refuge habitats and provide optimal grazing opportunities. They 
would also continue to lead the operations needed to move bison through 
the corral system during the annual roundup, upgrading and maintaining 
this system as needed. The two highest graded maintenance employees 
would continue to train other employees, including management and 
biology staff, on how to safely assist with these operations.

Alternative B--Proposed Action

    We would execute and carry out the draft AFA negotiated with CSKT 
during 2011-2012 (appendix A). CSKT would be responsible for designing, 
implementing, and managing the biology, fire, maintenance, and visitor 
services programs, as described in alternative A, in accordance with 
approved Service plans and policies. Three of the 11 current Service 
employees--refuge manager, deputy refuge manager, and law enforcement 
officer--would remain employed by us. Remaining staff would be assigned 
or transferred to CSKT. Five permanent employees--a GS-12 supervisory 
wildlife biologist, GS-9 range conservationist, WG-9 equipment 
operator, WG-8 maintenance worker, and GS-7 range (fire) technician--
would be asked to sign Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) agreements 
assigning them to work for CSKT. IPA assignments are voluntary, and 
must be agreed to by our employees. The GS-11 supervisory outdoor 
recreation planner position would remain with the Service until that 
employee transfers or retires. At that time, the position and funding 
would be given to CSKT for recruitment of its own employee. Two 4-year 
term positions--a WG-7 maintenance worker and a GS-9 fish and wildlife 
biologist--would not be renewed. These positions would be converted to 
permanent positions and their salaries and duties would be transferred 
to CSKT for recruitment. Providing CSKT with these 8 permanent 
positions would allow CSKT to manage and implement refuge programs, 
including supervising all program leaders and support staff and 
recruiting and supervising volunteers.
    We would provide funding to CSKT for recruitment of two to six 
seasonal employees to support all refuge complex programs and a GS-11 
(equivalent) wildlife refuge specialist. The wildlife refuge specialist 
would be supervised by the manager of the CSKT FWRC, but would receive 
day-to-day direction from either our refuge manager or deputy refuge 
manager. The wildlife refuge specialist would supervise all CSKT and 
IPA Service staff, directing the day-to-day work of employees and 
volunteers in the biology, fire, maintenance, and visitor services 
programs. In the absence of the CSKT wildlife refuge specialist, a 
CSKT-designated official would fulfill these duties.
    A refuge complex leadership team would be formed to develop annual 
work plans, set work priorities, address performance and conduct 
issues, prepare periodic status reports, and resolve disputes. The 
leadership team would include our refuge manager and deputy refuge 
manager, the CSKT wildlife refuge specialist, and the manager of the 
CSKT FWRC. The team would meet as needed to discuss management plans 
and address issues.

Alternative C

    We would negotiate an AFA with CSKT authorizing it to conduct the 
fire management program and collaborate on all aspects of the visitor 
services program. All work of the refuge complex, as described in 
alternative A, would be accomplished under the supervision and 
leadership of our refuge manager or deputy refuge manager and our 
program leaders in accordance with approved Service plans and policies.

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The Service would retain all current Federal positions and convert the 
two term positions--fish and wildlife biologist and maintenance 
worker--back to permanent status.
    CSKT Fire Management Division staff would implement the fire 
management program. The Division (under the Tribes' Forestry 
Department) is responsible for wildland fire management, including fire 
preparedness, wildfire suppression, and application of prescribed fire 
on the Flathead Indian Reservation. We would provide funding to CSKT to 
recruit a GS-9 (equivalent) outdoor recreation planner and up to four 
seasonal CSKT employees to implement the visitor services program, 
including operating the visitor center and greeting and orienting 
visitors. The CSKT outdoor recreation planner would supervise these 
seasonal CSKT employees and work alongside our supervisory outdoor 
recreation planner. They would collaborate on interpretive and 
education programs and on providing visitors with information on the 
resources, management, history, and cultural significance of the refuge 

Alternative D

    In addition to the fire operations and visitor services programs as 
described in alternative C, CSKT would receive funding to recruit up to 
three more seasonal employees (in addition to the four seasonal visitor 
services staff). These added CSKT employees would support the biology 
and maintenance programs. Our Service leaders would train and lead all 
CSKT staff in all programs. The long-term objective would be to 
transfer more of the permanent positions to CSKT over time, through 
attrition and negotiation.
    All work of the refuge complex, as described in alternative A, 
would be accomplished under the supervision and leadership of our 
refuge manager or deputy refuge manager and our program leaders, in 
accordance with approved Service plans and policies. The approach would 
be to provide the opportunity and time needed for the new CSKT 
employees to gain the experience and knowledge necessary to fully 
perform the activities of permanent positions. In addition to the 
refuge manager, deputy refuge manager, and law enforcement officer, the 
Service would retain the program leader or highest graded positions in 
the biology, maintenance, and visitor services program. We would also 
retain the second highest graded maintenance worker. These seven 
positions could continue refuge programs and train new employees, 
including new CSKT staff, regardless the status of an AFA. The current 
term positions (fish and wildlife biologist and maintenance worker) 
would be converted to permanent. Four positions could transfer to CSKT 
(after being vacated through transfer, retirement, or resignation) 
including a GS-9 (equivalent) fish and wildlife biologist, GS-9 
(equivalent) range conservationist, GS-7 (equivalent) range technician, 
and WG-7 (equivalent) maintenance worker. As these permanent positions 
were vacated, our refuge manager would renegotiate with CSKT to decide 
whether or not to transfer them to CSKT. Our employees would work 
closely with CSKT seasonal staff to provide the training and experience 
needed to support the operations and programs of the refuge complex and 
to help them compete for permanent positions with us or with CSKT.

Alternative E

    In addition to transferring fire and visitor services operations to 
CSKT, as described in alternatives C and D, this AFA would add more 
CSKT staff positions, expanding our management capabilities on the 
refuge complex. CSKT-recruited staff would be involved in all 
operations on the refuge complex, particularly on the Ninepipe and 
Pablo Refuges and on the nine waterfowl production areas in the WMD. 
All work of the refuge complex, as described in alternative A, would be 
accomplished under the supervision and leadership of our refuge manager 
or deputy refuge manager and our program leaders, in accordance with 
approved Service plans and policies. Under this AFA, we would provide 
funding to the CSKT to recruit two new employees to help with the 
management of the WMD, including a GS-11 (equivalent) wildlife refuge 
specialist and a WG-6 (equivalent) maintenance worker. The manager of 
the CSKT FWRC would supervise these employees.
    CSKT would also be provided funding to recruit three additional 
permanent employees that would support complex-wide programs, including 
a WG-6 (equivalent) maintenance worker, GS-5 (equivalent) biological 
science technician, a GS-9 (equivalent) range conservationist, and an 
average of two to six temporary employees (depending on annual project 
funding) in the biology, visitor services, and maintenance programs. 
Our refuge manager and program leaders would be involved in the 
recruitment and selection of all CSKT staff, working collaboratively 
with both agencies' personnel or human resources offices. Initially, we 
would keep nine employees, working closely with the CSKT staff to 
provide the training and experience needed to support the operations 
and programs of the refuge complex and safely manage our bison herd. 
Through negotiation after transfer, retirement, or resignation of our 
in-place employees, we may transfer up to three more positions to the 
CSKT, including a GS-9 (equivalent) fish and wildlife biologist, WG-7 
(equivalent) maintenance worker, and GS-7 (equivalent) range 

Next Steps

    After the public provides comments on the draft EA, we will present 
this document, along with a summary of all substantive public comments, 
to the Regional Director. The Regional Director will consider the 
environmental effects of each alternative, along with information 
gathered during public review, and will select a preferred alternative. 
If the Regional Director finds that no significant impacts would occur, 
the Regional Director's decision will be disclosed in a Finding of No 
Significant Impact. If the Regional Director finds a significant impact 
would occur, an environmental impact statement will be prepared. If 
approved, the action in the preferred alternative will become the 
proposed AFA between the Service and CSKT. This proposed AFA will be 
sent to Congress for a 90-day review prior to being signed and 

Public Availability of Comments

    All public comment information provided voluntarily by mail or by 
phone (e.g., names, addresses, comments) becomes part of the official 
public record. If requested under the Freedom of Information Act by a 
private citizen or organization, the Service may provide copies of such 


    The environmental review of this project will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.); NEPA 
regulations (40 CFR parts 1500 through1508, 43 CFR part 46); other 
appropriate Federal laws and regulations; Executive Order 12996; the 
National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act of 1966, as amended; 
and Service policies and procedures for compliance with those laws and 

[[Page 45456]]

    Dated: June 6, 2014.
Matt Hogan,
Acting, Regional Director, Mountain-Prairie Region, U. S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-18450 Filed 8-4-14; 8:45 am]